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Are You Up to Date on Your Immunizations?

August 11, 2022

Most people know about childhood immunizations—the shots kids get at their routine pediatric appointments. But did you know that there are vaccines that adults should get as well? The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought more attention to immunization and the health risks of not being properly vaccinated. August is National Immunization Awareness Month, an observance that reminds us of the importance of staying up to date on shots!

Vaccines give our bodies a “practice test” by teaching the body’s immune system to recognize and defend against harmful viruses or bacteria. Then when the real virus or bacteria comes along, our bodies already know how to fight it off! Vaccines protect us from harmful diseases throughout life—and seniors are often at higher risk of contracting these diseases and suffering serious complications from them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that seniors who have heart disease, asthma, lung disease and diabetes can be at particularly high risk of these complications, and even of death. 

There are several vaccines that are currently recommended for most older adults, depending on their lifestyle and other conditions: 

Annual flu vaccine. We need to get a flu shot each year, because the influenza viruses that spread are different each year. For people older than 65, a higher-dose shot is usually recommended. Also note that the CDC does not recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine for adults older than 50. 

Tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis. Tetanus (sometimes called “lockjaw”) and diphtheria are severe, often fatal diseases. Pertussis (“whooping cough”) causes spasms of severe coughing. The vaccines for these three diseases are given in different combinations; ask your doctor which type is recommended for you. 

Shingles. Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. Shingles usually clears up after a few weeks. But some peoplewill develop complications such as postherpetic neuralgia, a very painful and debilitating condition that can last for a long time. The CDC recommends that people older than 50 receive the two-part Shingrix vaccine.

Pneumonia (pneumococcal disease). Pneumococcal illness can be very dangerous, causing damage to the lungs, brain, spinal cord and bloodstream, and can lead to hearing and vision loss, seizures, and death. The CDC recommends that adults aged 65 or older receive two types of pneumococcal vaccine. The two vaccines are not given at the same time.

COVID-19. Get vaccinated for COVID-19, and make sure you are up to date on your boosters. The CDC currently recommends two boosters for adults aged 50 and older, or if you received your first dose of the vaccine outside of the United States.

Other vaccines. People with certain health problems, immunization histories and lifestyles may need additional vaccines. These might include the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) shot, vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, chicken pox (varicella), monkeypox, and for meningococcal disease. People who are planning foreign travel might need other shots, as well. Talk to your doctor well in advance of your trip.

By getting vaccinated, you not only protect yourself, but also vulnerable members of your community such as babies and immunocompromised adults who cannot be vaccinated. Medicare and most private insurances will pay for immunizations. So roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated! 

The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about the immunizations you should receive, and maintain an up-to-date immunization record to keep with your other important documents.